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Week In Politics: Moving On From Caucus Chaos; Vengeance Is Trump's


The impeachment of President Trump ends with a not guilty, and the president responds with firings and fulminations. He's fired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified during the House impeachment inquiry, and his twin brother Yevgeny Vindman, who both worked for the National Security Council and then his EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland. We're now joined by NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: Let's begin with the firings. Lt. Col. Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, not just let go but escorted out of the White House - did it have to be done this way?

ELVING: It did not have to be done this way, but is anyone surprised? People in these positions serve at the pleasure of the president. That's the word that's used. And the president's displeasure with the lieutenant colonel had been apparent since his damaging testimony last fall. Trump even spoke of it yesterday in a brief interchange with reporters. As for the twin brother, he would appear, at this point, to be collateral damage.

SIMON: And what about Ambassador Sondland, who gave $1 million to the inauguration committee - Trump inauguration committee, as I recall? He - well, look. We have a - let's remind ourselves of some explosive testimony before the House that he gave. Well, perhaps we don't have that clip right now. But we remember that, don't we?

ELVING: Well, I think we do all remember that. And with his recall on top of the other firings, we had something of a Friday Afternoon Massacre, Scott - the kind of sudden move that was made famous by Richard Nixon, who fired several top officials one weekend in what came to be called the Saturday Night Massacre back in Watergate days. You know, President Trump could have taken two paths after his acquittal. He could have moderated his behavior in response to all that's transpired. Some of the Republican senators gave speeches saying they hoped he'd learned his lesson. But so far, he's been roaring down retribution road instead and not only in his White House celebration on Thursday but at the annual prayer breakfast, where he questioned the religious faith of two of his high-profile critics - that would be Senator Mitt Romney and Speaker Nancy Pelosi - but also in these reactions we saw on Friday.

SIMON: At the same time, Ron, who seems more eager to make impeachment a campaign issue now - Democrats or Republicans?

ELVING: That's a toss-up. Both are going to do it but in different ways. Democrats will surely continue talking about what the president did and seeking more information and talking about the Senate's refusal to call witnesses or hear available new evidence before acquitting the president, while the president himself, on the other hand, is going to want to stress his acquittal in the Senate and his keen sense of personal grievance at having been impeached in the first place and his rage at everyone involved.

SIMON: The Democrats had to confront a triumphal Donald Trump this week and then contend with what I'll call the app that failed or the chaos of the long count in Iowa.

ELVING: Well, we'll get to Iowa in a moment. But first, the State of the Union, I just need to say, was rather a demonstration of disunion. It was a campaign rally from top to bottom, including the made-for-reality-TV moments with guests in the gallery and the attacks on Democrats in the chamber. So their reaction was pretty well summed up in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's extraordinary gesture of tearing the speech in half when the president had finished. So I've been in Washington for 36 of these things, and this one was as far from the traditions of these events as one could imagine, which is probably just what the president wanted.

SIMON: And how bad is Iowa for the Democrats? And Iowa - this is a caucus in a state you and I have both covered, filled - which we know to be filled with wonderful, smart, capable people.

ELVING: All week, the Associated Press kept saying it was too early to call a winner. Now we've reached the point where it's too late to call one or too late to care. There were problems with the reporting system, way too many volunteers who hadn't downloaded the app, way too late or little training or testing. But the underlying problem is with this kind of nighttime, low-turnout caucuses and the complex rules they use to translate raw votes into delegate counts. People don't understand it. It's way too complicated and open to question. And to have it at this prominent place in the process probably just gives it too much power.

SIMON: NPR senior editor and correspondent 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.