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Politics & Government

Week In Politics: Biden And 2020


President Trump is talking trade with Prime Minister Abe of Japan. And he's taking swipes at Joe Biden who announced - no surprise - that he's running for president. Ron Elving, senior Washington editor and correspondent, joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott. This week I'm calling in from Philadelphia, Pa. - happens to be the home base for Biden's 2020 campaign.

SIMON: Which, as we note - the announcement was no surprise. What do you make of how he positioned himself in the launch, to ask a real beltway kind of question?

ELVING: Most of it was pretty predictable - the local pizza parlor, the $6.3 million raised in the first 24 hours. But in that video, there is a narrative being set up where Biden's challenging President Trump more as a kind of civic crusade than an act of political ambition. He talks about the Charlottesville riots in 2017 and the charge that President Trump is unworthy and unfit for the office because of the way he handled those events. That's an attack line, of course, that didn't serve Hillary Clinton too well in 2016.

SIMON: Any tells - if I might put it that way - in President Trump's reaction to how he feels about this potential challenger?

ELVING: Well, the president, of course, defended his handling of Charlottesville - said this week he had spoken perfectly at that time. And yes, the president clearly takes this challenger more seriously than most all the other 20 or so. He regards him more like a peer. He's given him a nickname - sleepy Joe. And he says he would beat him easily. But for all his denials, the president is clearly a consumer of polls. And he doubtless knows that there were many polls this week showing Biden ahead of him in a hypothetical matchups. One saying possibly by as much as eight points.

SIMON: Conventional political wisdom always says the economy is the is the overriding issue. Country did get some some good economic news yesterday.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: If an athlete were doing as well as our economy right now, that athlete would be tested for performance enhancing drugs. And Trump would claim those drugs, in this case, are his tax cuts for corporations and is stripping away of government regulations on corporations - regulations that include rules for health and safety and the environment. But even with 3.2% growth in the first quarter and unemployment at historic lows, including here in Pennsylvania, a critical state for 2020, the president continues to struggle in the overall public opinion forum. A nonpartisan polling consistently shows him with far more negatives than positives. They show him 10 points or more behind where President Obama was at this point in his first term. And several major polls showed him slipping below 40 percent approval in recent days. In fact, the best thing you can say on the polling front is that a majority of the country doesn't want to see impeachment proceedings begin now.

SIMON: Thirty-seven percent, according to The Washington Post ABC poll, says that they are in favor of impeachment. How does that compare with what we've seen in the past?

ELVING: What we saw with Watergate was that it took an enormous amount of time for the story to unfold. There were more than two years between the original burglary - the original break in at the Watergate complex and the resignation of President Nixon. It took a great deal of time for public opinion to swing in favor of impeachment. And in those many months, Nixon turned the public against him with his efforts at cover up and his defiance of the other branches of government - Congress and the courts.

SIMON: Watergate, of course, occasioned hearings - public hearings. We haven't had them yet here.

ELVING: We have not had such hearings. There were hearings by a special committee set up in the Senate, even though impeachment would eventually begin in the House. But in the summer of 1973, the Senate held a series of extraordinary hearings in which they began the real exploration of Watergate that led to the revelation that there were tape recordings from the Oval Office in the White House that eventually provided the evidence that made it impossible for President Nixon to continue.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.