Week In Politics

Aug 31, 2019
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We're watching Hurricane Dorian as it heads towards the U.S. and the storm on the economic horizon and clouds of tear gas in the streets of Hong Kong. NPR's senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: The president canceled a trip to Poland this weekend to keep track of Dorian the same week Democrats accused him of taking several millions of dollars from FEMA, the federal agency charged with disaster relief, to use in securing the U.S. border.

ELVING: Yes. The president had previously sought to move some of FEMA's administrative budget, as you described, which raised a lot of eyebrows and objections, especially from Democratic presidential candidates. But that was a fund transfer of something like $155 million. And while that could affect FEMA preparation for the hurricane season in general, if Dorian hits the U.S., the relief funding will come from FEMA's major disaster fund triggered by presidential declaration and supported by Congress.

SIMON: Why did the market go up in a week there's been so many warnings about downturns and possible recession?

ELVING: The stock market was higher on hopes that the China trade deal was going forward again and the Trump tariffs would be short-lived. The Chinese helped that sentiment by backing off one of their own retaliatory tariff increases. But all the hopeful talk has yet to include a date for actual talks to resume, and most observers think we are some distance from a real deal. And the Chinese know the negotiators on our side are under increasing pressure to get a deal so as to minimize any recession next year and maximize the president's chances of reelection.

SIMON: We mentioned Hong Kong - pro-democracy demonstrators in the streets again. U.S. reaction has been muted. Also, this week, New York Times reports the president tweeted a picture of an Iranian space center that could have been based on sensitive intelligence - also reports - not confirmed by NPR, I should say - that President Trump may block military aid to Ukraine - $250 million. Why would he want to do that?

ELVING: Well, first, the Iranian picture raises a variety of questions, not least of which is potentially U.S. involvement in the failure of that launch. But as that story develops, the Ukraine story is getting a lot of negative attention and reaction, including from Republicans in the Senate who strongly back Ukraine in its long-running face-off with Russia.

You remember the Russian seizure of Crimea a few years ago that led to Russia being expelled from what was then the G8, that group of top industrial powers. It's now just the G7. But President Trump said at its meeting last week he thought Russia ought to get back in. So we can see he's not holding Crimea against Putin. And in that same spirit, he may not want to anger Putin by giving too much direct military aid, training and weapons to Ukraine.

SIMON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked the queen to suspend Parliament - a very British coup, as many of his critics say, or a way to force Parliament to work out Brexit three years-plus after voters voted for him.

ELVING: Or perhaps a device to get Parliament out of the way and allow Boris and the Brexiteers to finally leave the EU even without a deal. And the EU has said it is done negotiating. So this fall, Britain may leave the European Union and do it in the most disruptive and unpredictable way imaginable. So for the residents of Britain, this is rather like watching a hurricane bear down on them, feeling helpless to stop it and unable to escape.

SIMON: The romance between the president and Fox News seemed to have everything going for it. What happened?

ELVING: (Laughter) It does seem to have cooled. Weeks ago, the president started complaining about the opinion polls he saw on Fox News. They were showing his approval rating as low as most of the other media and academic polls. So he called that fake news.

And he also seems to hear more and more voices on Fox, not only guests but also some of their reporters and hosts, speaking of him, President Trump, in critical terms and tones. So he said, this week, Fox isn't working for us anymore, which - whatever he meant by that - prompted Fox personalities such as Neil Cavuto and others to declare on the air that they were reporting on the president, not working for him. And the president apparently took offense at that.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott.

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