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Week in politics: Short-term spending measure; Mitch McConnell freezes again

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

While job numbers seem to hold strong, we might have to brace for another potential fiscal and political face-off - the possibility of government shutdown unless Congress passes at least a short-term spending measure to pay bills before the end of the fiscal year. NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks for being with us.

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

SIMON: Unless Congress passes at least a short-term spending measure - seems like we say that every few weeks.

ELVING: Yes.

SIMON: Why necessary now, again?

ELVING: Well, the end of the fiscal year comes at the end of this month. And because of these immediate emergencies, as you describe, there's need to replenish certain agencies even sooner. Like, FEMA was already running out of money before the Maui fires, the Louisiana fires and the pummeling parts of Florida took from the hurricane this week. Meanwhile, the news from Ukraine is that the counteroffensive there is finally punching through after three months of grinding away at the Russian lines of defense. If true, this could be a critical moment for rearming and supporting Ukraine. That's why the Biden administration is not willing to wait on the usual brinksmanship of the congressional budget process. This is money that's needed right now. And that usual process is looking very unpromising at the moment. The word brinksmanship scarcely covers it. And another government shutdown is seeming quite likely right now, maybe in a matter of weeks.

SIMON: What else is included in this potential stopgap?

ELVING: There's money in there to bolster the food assistance program for women, infants and children, which has been hard hit by inflation this year, and also some authorization changes for low-income housing. But these are relatively minor adjustments that normally would not be hard to do. We're in a larger crisis here. A sizable group of House Republicans are resisting the way the federal government spends money in general. They've said they won't vote for any new stopgap. They won't vote for the annual spending bills. They're going to look back on a debt ceiling deal in May and say that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy didn't stand up for them the way he said he would. So this time, they want to provoke a confrontation of their own with Biden, with McCarthy also, by withholding their votes for budget measures, long-term or short-term.

SIMON: And Georgia's Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene said that she will not vote to pass a government spending bill unless Congress votes for and passes an impeachment inquiry into President Biden. Any chance of that?

ELVING: House Republicans have been investigating and holding hearings on members of the Biden family all year, and they don't have much to show for it. The much-touted investigations by Jim Jordan of Ohio and James Comer of Kentucky have promised much but, so far, delivered relatively little. At this point, the case seems to rely on a widely discredited former Ukrainian official who was fired years ago for failing to prosecute corruption. And he blames the Obama administration and Joe Biden for that. Not much of a basis for impeachment, but it doesn't seem to matter. You may remember that when former President Trump was pressuring Ukrainian President Zelenskyy to go after Joe Biden, he said Ukraine didn't have to do an investigation, just announce an investigation and let Trump do the rest. So here we are, deep in the 2024 election cycle. Everything has to be seen through that.

We're told this morning that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will not meet with Biden to tour storm damage there today, as is conventional and as he himself did after Hurricane Ian last year. You may recall New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took flak for appearing with President Obama late in 2012. That was the presidential election cycle that year. He was touring damage from Hurricane Sandy. They had a warm handshake. A hand was on a shoulder. And that photograph was used against Governor Christie when he ran for president a few years later.

SIMON: And we have to ask, finally, Senator McConnell seemed to freeze in a press conference this week. Capitol physician says he's fine, but does this nevertheless revive talk about who might succeed him as Republican leader, if and when?

ELVING: Not publicly, no. But privately, of course, that conversation has to be going on. We've seen McConnell freeze up twice in news conferences. Are we supposed to think this only happens to him in news conferences? We have to wonder how many other times it has happened when he wasn't on camera. Here's a question - would it be acceptable if Biden went into a freeze like this or if it happened to him more than once? And it's not an idle question. Aging is an equal opportunity agent. And it spares no one, no party, no individual.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Ron.

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.
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