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Week In Politics


The hallways may be quiet on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, but still plenty of noise coming from your Congress and the president. Here to help us cut through the chatter, NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Why is a member of Congress from Michigan front-page news in Israel?

ELVING: It's front-page news there because our president wants it on the front page back here in the U.S. But let's step back just for a moment. Congress has two new members who are Muslim women and who are outspoken in their support of Palestinians. The president has made them a major target of his Twitter feed. And one of them is Rashida Tlaib from Michigan. She was born in the U.S. but still has family on the West Bank. She and her colleague Ilhan Omar from Minnesota were going to go to Israel until earlier this week when Israel decided to ban them because of their support for a boycott on Israel.

Now, that decision came right after a tweet from President Trump saying Israel looked weak if it let these two women into their country. And then a day later, the Israelis relented, saying they would let Congresswoman Tlaib visit her grandmother so long as she didn't talk boycotts. And then the congresswoman said she wouldn't go to Israel if she was going to be muzzled. And, of course, the whole business has left a bad taste in many mouths, including those of supporters of Israel in the U.S. and supporters of the U.S. in Israel.

SIMON: And I want to ask you about the protests in Hong Kong, which continue this weekend. There was a time when the U.S. government would be, at least vocally, rhetorically, very supportive of pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.

ELVING: You would think we would be. And that's got people asking a lot of questions. Is there some kind of cone of silence here? Did the Trump administration agree not to stir this pot so long as trade negotiations with Beijing are going on or are not going on and seem to have hit a tough spot? But we also have elements within the Beijing establishment turning that question on its head and accusing the U.S. of creating the unrest in Hong Kong in the first place as a tactic in the trade negotiations. So lots of uncertainty about the U.S. role here and our entire relationship with China.

SIMON: And taking off on those trade negotiations, this week's economic news was mixed. Economists, as they usually are, are divided about what might be ahead. But it's fair to say that they threw up some cautionary signals, didn't they?

ELVING: You know, Saturday morning is probably not the best time to talk inverted yield curves, Scott. But...

SIMON: That's why we're here, Ron.

ELVING: (Laughter).

SIMON: Go ahead. Talk about inverted yield curves. I know there's a lot you want to get off your chest.

ELVING: I'm just not going to throw that pitch. Let's just say that when borrowing money for the long term costs about the same as borrowing for the short term, something is probably out of whack. And it shows a lack of confidence in business in the immediate future and the long-term future. And it's often signaled a recession around the corner. So on the political side, if the strength of the economy is the best argument for Trump's reelection, then any talk of recession makes that argument a little weaker.

SIMON: Major party conventions are almost a year away. But let's note this week Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts seems to be picking up steam, doesn't she?

ELVING: If the focus is on the economy, well, Elizabeth Warren will tell you she's got a plan for that. And, of course, the other candidates will say they do, too. But policy is really Warren's strong suit. It's one reason she's climbing in the polls even as nearly the - all of the other top-tier candidates are sliding a bit.

SIMON: Finally, Ron, I had occasion to look up and listen to the Greenland national anthem this week. It's very moving, as you may know. And President Trump, who complained about the fact that Puerto Rico is an island, reportedly wants the U.S. or wanted the U.S. to buy Greenland. What do you make of this?

ELVING: Yeah, this is apparently one of the good islands. It's not so crazy an idea. The United States was interested in buying Greenland in the 1860s when we bought Alaska from Russia. And we were interested again after World War II when we were trying to keep Russia at bay. The only problem is Greenland belongs to Denmark. Denmark doesn't want to sell. And a lot of people in Greenland would rather be independent. So don't watch for the just-sold sign anytime soon.

SIMON: And I was hoping to do a fundraiser for Greenland public radio. 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.