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A Busy Week In Politics: Climate Pact, Russia Probe


President Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accord this week. More reports of possible connections between the Trump administration and Russia, and James Comey is set to sing next week. Joining us now, NPR's ineffable Ron Elving (laughter) - somebody put that in the script - senior political editor and correspondent. I suspect it was Ron. How are you, Ron?

RON ELVING, BYLINE: (Laughter) I'm fine, Scott, and I promise not to sing.

SIMON: Ineffable as always (unintelligible) at least you know the lyrics. President Trump announced the U.S., of course, is going to leave the Paris Agreement. Other major leaders around the world said they're disappointed. A couple said they're not inclined to renegotiate a pact that took 10 years to reach. The president repeated that he wants to put America first. Does his announcement accomplish what he wanted to this week?

ELVING: Yes - what he wanted to accomplish this week. He wanted to resolve a big conflict inside his White House and his larger political family - quite literally family. You know, you've got globalists on one hand who would just as soon get out of this agreement, and then you have nationalists - excuse me. The globalists want to stay in the agreement, of course - and the nationalists who wanted to get out. And here we're talking about - you use the phrase America first, and this is the crowd that is very inspired by that kind of rhetoric. Now, whether on the long-term hand it's going to produce the economic effects that are desired and promised, like bringing back coal jobs, for instance, that's going to take some time to tell.

SIMON: It's going to take years for the withdrawal to go into effect. And I wonder - does the president's decision mobilize climate change as an issue in 2020 in a way that it hasn't seemed to register with voters before?

ELVING: Well, you're right about the past. It doesn't seem to reach people the way, say, health care does or Social Security as an issue. But it is a potent symbol, and that is, in fact, what Trump wants it to be. He wants it to be a symbol, a signal, if you will, of change of direction for the U.S. and a gesture to the world. And, of course, for people who are disturbed by that particular gesture, this could be a potent symbol, as well, and a political inspiration.

SIMON: Forgive me. You mean like a Mr. Met-type gesture?

ELVING: Well, a gesture that people will not have any trouble interpreting.

SIMON: All right. The climate agreement headlines rose to the top of the news by the end of the week. But, of course, there are more news about alleged links with Russia, especially involving the president's son-in-law and point man on so many issues, Jared Kushner. There'll be investigations. It'll take a lot of time, but what do you see that might be involved here?

ELVING: You know, Scott, we are still trying to figure out what kind of fire is causing all this Russia smoke. And this latest element is a little different. Perhaps the most serious yet - could be. We have a new character in in Sergei Gorkov, a close associate of Vladimir Putin - very high up in the political world and intelligence circles - banking in Russia - came to the U.S. He had a meeting with Jared Kushner. Now, we don't know what they talked about.

But there have been some reports they discussed a back channel for communications that would not be monitored by U.S. intelligence. So people are obviously wondering, what's that all about? And Kushner's lawyer says he's eager to talk, explain all this. We don't know just when and how yet. And we're definitely going to be looking forward to that.

SIMON: And, of course, as we mentioned, former to the FBI James Comey is set to testify before the Senate intelligence committee next week. First, any chance that President Trump will invoke executive privilege to try and prevent him from doing that?

ELVING: He could try, but Comey no longer works for him. He is out. He is a private citizen, and he wants to talk. So the next step for the president would be to pressure the Senate leadership to either withdraw the invitation to Comey to speak or shut down the investigation altogether, either one of which would be extraordinary and set off a lot of alarm bells.

SIMON: Yeah. What kind of milestone does this potentially represent?

ELVING: Potentially, it could be a turning point for the entire investigation. This kind of testimony does not always make history, but sometimes it changes the course of history in respect to a particular investigation.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much. And listen, my friend, we're going to be out of the D.C. bubble next week, aren't we?

ELVING: We are indeed.

SIMON: We're going to do our show from the stage of the Lyric Theatre in Birmingham. You'll be with us. I'm so glad. See you then. Take care.

ELVING: See you then. I'm very eager to get back to Birmingham. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.